A/N: Hey guys, I know this update is a little late, but I'm gonna write a little faster to hopefully catch up! Also: if I ever take a long update, you can usually expect me to post a preview or two on my tumblr, like I did with this chapter! So if you haven't already, check that out (the link is at the top of my bio).
Also. Another lovely shout out to everyone who reviewed, and especially 'princess-li-lei-an,' who came all the way onto tumblr to show her love! I really appreciate all your support and I hope you're enjoying this fic (if you do let me know in a review, keke.)
Disclaimer: I do not own PoT.
When Noriko finishes loading her tray with an alarming amount of food at last, Yukimura takes a moment to glance back at his team. Sanada, predictably, is still caught in the claw-hold of Hanae and Kamemiya. Marui is rapidly devouring every sugary concoction in sight, and Jackal is beside him, looking at his teammate eating with a faint green tinge to his skin. Yanagi shares a quiet conversation with Yagyuu; Niou is off flirting with some members of the girls' volleyball team (he always did say that he thought the volleyball girls had the nicest bodies). Kirihara is-
-constantly texting on his phone, and Yukimura has a small idea of who it is that he seems to be messaging all the time these days. It makes his lips curve into a small, amused smile.
"C'mon," Noriko says, nudging at his arm. "Let's go sit."
They go back to the table and Sanada seems visibly relieved that Yukimura has returned - but to his dismay, Yukimura sits across the circular table with Noriko, smiles cheerily at Sanada and the two girls beside him.
"You're a transfer, I heard," he says, and there's a clear question in there.
Noriko glances at him from where she's taking a sip of her soda. "Oh," she puts down her drink, licks at the corner of her mouth. "Yeah. This year, actually."
"That's a little late, isn't it?" Certainly, transferring in the last year of junior high seemed a bit odd. Noriko agrees with a laugh.
"My parents just moved this past summer and our new house is closer to Rikkai Dai than my last school. I've been playing with Saya for years, though."
Shiori Noriko meets Kamemiya Saya when they're both five years old and entering a junior soccer club for the first time. Noriko is wide-eyed and completely oblivious to the rules of soccer and Saya is well-versed and practically lunging for the field the minute she sees it. They're not fast friends, not really - Noriko can't be bothered with all of Saya's intensity (even at five years old) and Noriko's devil-may-care attitude puts Saya on edge.
Both girls make it into the top five ranks at their club by the time they're eight. They get put into smaller practice groups together, because they're both pretty decent and good players practice with one another, in this club. Then one day, Saya forgets her cleats at home on the day there's a level test; Noriko lends her hers when it comes to Saya's turn. The next day, Saya pulls an airheaded Noriko off to the side to avoid being hit by a stray ball.
By the time they're nine, they're inseparable.
When they're ten, they move to the same youth academy club (*1). Saya already knows she wants to do this, this sport and this rush of adrenaline when she's on the field, for the rest of her life. She's serious about it, and she's got a shot, if evidenced by her acceptance into this elite club. Noriko catches up to the same dream a year later and at age eleven, both girls know that soccer is in their veins.
Then comes twelve, and Saya is already dead-set on Rikkai Dai, the team that has one of the finest sports tracks from across the nation. She applies, and expects and plans for Noriko to join her. But then, Noriko's parents relocate to another area for her father's job, and Saya is devastated.
Noriko, for all of her typical ambivalence, is deeply disappointed as well. At some point, Saya pleads her parents if maybe Noriko can stay at their house, live with them and attend Rikkai together, but that'd been a ridiculous idea overall.
So for the next two years the girls are separated, because Noriko's new house is so far she can't even participate in the after school youth academy they'd been enrolled in, either. They're still best friends, of course, text almost every day and video chat at least once a week, but it's not the same - Saya's missing a striker and Noriko's missing a captain.
Then Noriko's family moves back to Kanagawa, and things start to begin. Saya's given the captain position at the end of her second year and she doesn't take a vice-captain, not yet, and once Noriko transfers into Rikkai Dai, the team starts to realize that Kamemiya Saya has been reserving the position for Shiori Noriko.
They're outraged, at first, and it's unacceptable that this stranger can just waltz in and claim a regular seat - this is the lion's den, see, and one doesn't simply just walk into the center. But Saya is nothing if not fair, and she puts Noriko in the regular selection matches herself.
The protests subside when Noriko steps onto the field.
She takes the vice captaincy two weeks after the school term starts. Saya is smug.
"Mm," Yukimura says, and it's a polite sort of tone, the kind that implies that he's already lost interest but is being courteous. Yukimura Seiichi, after all, is always courteous. Noriko doesn't seem to mind though.
From a distance, he sees the boys' swim team - the fourth and final team that currently holds the 'national champion' title at Rikkai Dai - enter the banquet hall, and there's another small ripple of murmurs at their entrance. Noriko seems distinctly uninterested in favor of picking apart the pastry in her hands. Yukimura, however, finds a larger amusement in watching the little scuffles throughout the hall.
For such physique-based athletes, it's a little funny, he thinks, that all the fights take place with well-aimed barbs and level glances, instead of out on the playing field.
"Hey, Maeda," he hears a feminine voice call from just beside him.
When he glances to the side, he finds that it's one of the soccer girls; he can't really remember their names, but everyone's wearing a little name tag tonight. Her's says 'Fujisaki Akemi,' with a sleek ponytail that falls to her shoulders and half-lidded eyes and high cheekbones. She's waving over at- Maeda Akira, he recognizes from his own class: regular on girls' softball, if he's correct (and he is).
Made it to top sixteen in Nationals. Choked, there, disappointing most people who'd anticipated them to join the ring of national champions, came back without a medal nor a congratulations.
Maeda doesn't look like she wants to, but walks over anyways with an uncomfortable expression on her face. "Yeah?" she mutters.
Fujisaki smiles serenely at her, and despite the lidded look, her eyes have a razor-sharp edge. "Hey," she greets, and her voice is too-nice to be genuine. "We just wanted to talk."
"Since, you know, we keep hearing that you're talking to everyone about us - except to us." It's the girl sitting next to Fujisaki, and this one is Matsuoka Mayumi, also in his and Fujisaki's class. She's not as willow-slender as Fujisaki is, is a little stockier with darker makeup and tanner skin, short pixie hair that's artfully messy. And when she smiles, it's much less subtle than Fujisaki's calm visage - this one is outright aggressive, fangs and all.
"...I don't know what you're talking about," Maeda sniffs. Her body language is easy to read, because Yukimura can see the discomfort in the way she wraps her arms loosely about her stomach, shoulders curled in and raised upwards.
Easy prey, he thinks. Hasn't she learned by now that wolves can smell fear the way they smell blood?
"Oh, you know. How we keep taking up the boys' field space without following the rules, how we keep 'bitching' for new equipment, how we're obnoxious and rude and- what's that last word she used, Mayumi?" Fujisaki turns to her friend, voice dripping feigned curiosity; she knows exactly what the last word is, but she offers the final bite to Matsuoka.
Matsuoka jumps in with ill-concealed glee. "Arrogant," she finishes. "She called us arrogant." She reaches forward, dusts off an imaginary piece of lint from Maeda's shoulder and this action alone has the girl flinching, just a little bit. "I can't really say anything about the field, though. But then, I guess if you guys knew a thing or two about practicing, you wouldn't have...choked at Nationals."
Matsuoka looks up with a grin. From beside her, Fujioka makes a delicate choking motion with her hands upon her neck, a little accompanying sound of strangulation mimicked from her throat.
"Oops," Matsuoka laughs. "You can go now." She makes a little shooing motion with her hands.
And Maeda looks livid and mortified - for a second, Yukimura even thinks she's going to lash out and retaliate. He wants to see it, wants to see one of the lower-ranking sheep try to rise up against the lions prowling at the top, because there's this morbid part of him that wants to see the ensuing bloodbath.
But it seems that for all of her rage, even she knows better than to say anything to the national champion girls' soccer team, especially when she's at their table. Maeda doesn't say anything. Instead, she tightens her jaw and stalks away, and a few of the girls at the table titter quietly, though with no effort to conceal it. He even sees Akaya look up from his phone to smirk a little (he always did think lower-ranking athletes were 'lame') and Niou pause in his flirting to snicker, too (Niou thought any kind of conflict between girls was hilarious).
Noriko doesn't look disturbed in the slightest.
"Your teammates are rather vicious," Yukimura murmurs quietly enough that the other girls don't hear, though he wouldn't particularly mind if they did.
Noriko looks up at him and glances at Fujisaki and Matsuoka, and when she looks back, there's a sheepish smile on her lips. She shrugs, a little helplessly, as if to say 'What can you do?' "Apparently Maeda was talking about us around the banquet hall," she admits.
Which was the girl's mistake, really - one didn't go around trash-talking a higher ranking team without expecting any sort of consequence, even if the girls had been a bit brutal. But then, a team tended to take on the characteristics of its captain, and Kamemiya Saya was not to be tampered with.
"Did you think it warranted that?" he asks. He's not really accusing them of being too-harsh, but he's genuinely curious (just a bit) as to what Noriko thinks when she sees her teammates licking clean the carcasses of others.
Noriko pauses. "No," she says. "But I don't really think any of this stuff is necessary, y'know? We're all athletes, and we're all Rikkai Dai students - Saya says I just 'don't get it,' which, I guess, I don't."
She laughs and throws her head back a little. "But I mean- as for their intensity- have you seen Saya?"
He has. In fact, he wouldn't be surprised if Kamemiya handed out dog bones to the girl who could rip the most flesh off of their opponent.
"Oh, but. Saya's also really strict on the whole 'abusing privileges' thing. Like, the team has this super strict policy on following the rules and misdemeanors and stuff - it's stricter than the school's. So we don't like, bully anyone or make trouble."
They both knew a handful - or a bit more than a handful, actually - of athletes who purposely went out of their way to make trouble with the non-athlete students, just because they knew that they had administration on their side. The little first year was just one incident of many.
After all, how many teenagers wouldn't abuse blatant favoritism from the school's authority?
"I don't know. As long as our team isn't starting things first, I think Saya lets most of the stuff go."
Saya didn't tolerate troublemakers. She didn't forgive members who used their championship title to actively bully others, because she said it was tainting and twisting their sport into something else entirely; she didn't, however, mind retaliating when she saw something out of order. When provoked, Saya didn't hold back with her own set of fangs, didn't mind brandishing her claws to assure the others that she was, indeed, an alpha.
Likewise, if her team was pawed at first, she wholeheartedly encouraged responding in turn - "Give as good as you get," was one of her sayings on the field. She had a lot of sayings.
Yukimura smiles a small, amused sort of smile at her, tilts his head as though he's trying to unravel her head. "Do you let this stuff go?" She keeps saying 'Saya says this,' 'Saya lets them do this,' as though she isn't also an authority figure, and it throws Yukimura off a little bit. Genichiro, after all, takes a heavy hand in the leadership despite deferring to Yukimura.
"Oh. Well," she laughs. "I'unno. It's not something I really concern myself with. I just play, y'know."
Just play, she says, as though that kind of thing is easy to do in a school where a sport isn't just a sport, but also the connotations that comes with the jersey and the medals.
"Mm," he says, even if he doesn't quite understand her at all.
When the banquet wraps up and it's time to go home, Yukimura tries to find Sanada. It takes him a while, but he finally locates his vice captain currently engaged in a glowering match with Kamemiya Saya, and he thinks he can trace the bulging outline of a vein standing out from Sanada's neck and forehead.
"Tennis is not stupid-"
"Yes it is," Saya hisses, and the gleam in Sanada's eyes is positively murderous.
"You don't have the discipline to last even a minute in a tennis match-"
"What would you know about discipline, running around like crazy cavemen with sticks in your hands-"
"Rackets," Sanada bellows, and his vein bulges just a bit more. "They're rackets, not sticks, you uneducated-"
"Like I give a shit what they're called, it's stupid, is what I'm saying-"
Yukimura's smile widens just a tad. He doesn't care much if tennis is insulted by a girl who doesn't know much beyond soccer, is unruffled in the face of such criticism; Genichiro, on the other hand, looks as though he's seriously contemplating homicide, and it makes him just a little bit excited with anticipation. He hasn't seen too much bloodshed tonight, seeing as how most of the athletes were keeping it tame.
This, though, looks rather fun.
Fortunately - or unfortunately, in his case - the placating tone of Shiori Noriko pipes up from behind him with a "Maa maa, Saya, that's kinda rude, don'tcha think? Tennis is pretty cool, I think." Noriko gives Yukimura a non-discreet thumbs up as she flits past him to drape an easy arm on her captain's shoulders.
She pulls the girl a step back - wise choice, considering how Sanada looks livid and lethal. "Sorry, Sanada. Saya just gets a little drunk on all the power after these things."
Saya looks properly affronted and turns to Noriko with an incredulous expression. "I do not," she huffs with indignation, and Noriko only laughs.
"C'mon, queen bee, it's time to head home. We'll catch you later, Sanada, Yukimura."
Sanada has to bite back the Please don't that threatens to spill from his lips.
Yukimura glances at him and conceals a laugh behind a pale hand.
After the banquet, Yukimura doesn't ease up during practice.
He activates the yips earlier and earlier during matches, completely obliterates all of his opponents without mercy; he could do so without using the technique on them, but he uses it anyway. None of the regulars question it, not even Sanada, who firmly believes in using only the energy and power necessary to complete a task.
Because this, this is Yukimura's way of returning to his throne after such a long absence. This is the way in which he cements his monarchy, the way he leaves no trail of doubt behind as to who the true leader of the demon generals is. He will take away everything, every last vestige of comfort and control that the opponent has - regardless if it is one of his own - and without fail, leave behind not even the ability to cry.
This, he thinks as he takes away a second year's hearing, is what happens to your opponents when they face us. Know this. Keep this knowledge tucked away in the back of your mind and allow it to sit there, this knowledge that this is Rikkai's strength.
This display of power is unnecessary to win, but it is necessary to rule.
His latest opponent is on his knees on the opposing side of the courts, screaming, shrieking with terror, trembling hands scratching at his eyes.
Not once does Yukimura's jersey fall from his shoulders.
Sanada speaks to him about it only once. "You're not easing up," he comments, and it's laden with implications. You've shown them your strength - isn't it time to lighten up a little?
Yukimura gives him a pleasant smile. "Rikkai Dai doesn't tolerate any losses, whether it's during practice or the tournament." His smile widens. "Just making sure I don't lose, Genichiro."
Sanada never says another word about the subject again.
Noriko begins to gradually develop an interest in tennis.
At first, it had been sheer fascination at the number of fans the boys had. And then, it was an intrigue at the way they dominated in the tennis courts, the strange techniques they had and the cool little tricks ("Saya, he made the ball roll across the net- No, I'm not dreaming this up, I'm telling you- Why won't you believe me, Sayaaaa-"). And then, it was- just the game.
She'd never had much of an interest in other sports - kind of got into American football for a little while before she dropped it. She watched soccer with avid enthusiasm, though, and watching tennis, she thinks she can start liking this sport, too.
She tells Yukimura as much, and her eyes widen a little when she sees the way he visibly brightens at the mention of soccer.
"Yes," he murmurs. "It's very nice."
"It's different from soccer," Noriko says.
Yukimura laughs first this time. "Very. I don't really think there's any comparison to be made between the two."
"Yeah, but it's- I dunno. You guys make tennis look cool."
And at that, Yukimura seems genuinely pleased, for his smile is a little softer around the edges this time around. "Thank you," he says, and he thinks that this sort of compliment about tennis, he doesn't mind so much.
Noriko leans back on her elbows, fully laid out on the rooftop bench. "When do your games start?"
"They already have."
She blinks, surprised. "Really? Already?"
The soccer and tennis tournaments started at around roughly the same times - they did, after all, draw their opponents on the same day. But whereas the soccer tournament could take up to four to five months depending on if a team made it to the finals round (which they always did), the tennis tournament took up a grand total of a single month. Soccer games took week long breaks in between games, at minimum; tennis games were rapid-fire matches day after day. (*2)
"The tennis tournament shuffles through a bit quicker than the soccer matches do, to my understanding. Though we did receive the BYE for the first round of matches, the second round is coming up soon."
Noriko makes a sound of understanding in her throat. She throws her head back and bares her neck to the sunlight beaming down from above, closes her eyes to avoid being blinded by the light. "I guess you'll get the gold earlier than us," she murmurs.
And it's in moments like this that Yukimura realizes that she may not participate in the little power plays at Rikkai, but she is a thoroughbread Rikkai Dai athlete. Little offhand comments like 'you'll get the gold earlier than us,' the assumptions that they both would so easily attain the championship trophy, the way she doesn't even consider loss a possibilty.
But he is just the same. Because he smiles in turn, lets the sunlight fan against his skin, and says "Mm. I hope Kamemiya won't antagonize Sanada too much over it."
The next day as practice approaches its end, Saya approaches Noriko, a megaphone tucked underneath her arm. Noriko is on her way to the showers, perspiration clear on her forehead and breathing labored. She stops, though, when she sees Saya, grins as she wipes the sweat off of her forehead with her forearm. "Hey, captain," she says, and there's the teasing lilt in her voice from whenever she calls Saya 'captain.'
Saya rolls her eyes but it's fond. "Hey. I was thinking we could stop by the little stationary shop on the way home? I need some new notebooks."
Noriko pauses. "Oh." Saya frowns. "Oh man, I can't - I have plans. Can we go tomorrow?"
Saya blinks at her. "What plans?"
If anything, the bewildered expression on Saya's features intensifies. "...What?" is all she manages to splutter. Because- since when had Yukimura and Noriko gotten so close as to have plans together after school? Saya's known that tthey talk frequently, sure, if only because the roof was both of their favorite places, but she hadn't thought-
Then again, she pauses, if Noriko really had been spending all that off time with Yukimura, it isn't that much of a surprise.
Still. She just hadn't expected it.
Noriko looks entirely unperturbed and shrugs with a casual air, and sometimes, Saya wants to strangle that easygoing manner of hers right out of her. "I was talking about that new cafe down the block and he mentioned he wanted to try out their menu, so. We're going."
Saya's eyes get wider. "...You and Yukimura Seiichi are going to a cafe."
Noriko laughs and slings a sweaty arm around Saya. Saya squawks a little but at this point, they've pushed each other around after practice so much that bodily fluids don't really bother them anymore. "Saya, we're junior high students. We should act like it sometimes."
Saya huffs. "I know that. I'm just- whatever."
Noriko laughs and smacks a teasing kiss to the side of Saya's cheek, making her groan and wipe at the skin where Noriko had pressed her lips into. "I'll go with you tomorrow after school, 'kay?" Noriko knocks her hip into Saya's before jogging over to the clubroom showers, and Saya only rolls her eyes with a sigh.
At the cafe, Noriko sets herself down with an impossibly tall glass of strawberry parfait and Yukimura gets a cup of green tea. They sit at a booth towards the back, and she's talking about a recent movie she went to see that Yukimura thinks he'd find interesting.
He still hasn't figured her out completely, but it's easy to talk to her.
Because she gets it, she's a high-ranking athlete too, because she understands all the subtle nuances of what it means to play a sport at Rikkai Dai. But she doesn't come with the mind games and the power plays that he so often tires of, and it's nice, having someone else outside the team to talk to. He has other friends, of course, acquaintances, certainly, but in terms of athletic standing, Shiori Noriko comes the closest.
Noriko likes spending time with Yukimura just because. Friends don't need a reason to like each other, right? He's comfortable and pleasant, even if he has this permanent distance between himself and others, and she likes his company.
Because she's heard of his whole 'Child of God' persona, has heard he's a demon on the courts, but she's also seen him stop to help a first year boy out of the goodness of his heart. He's nice, is the thing, is a genuinely kind person, and she likes that.
"Don't girls typically watch what they eat?" he asks, and he's half-kidding with a smile on his lips, but he's half serious, too.
Noriko laughs. "Man, we do like three hours of hardcore conditioning a day. If I gain weight from a parfait, I'm giving up on life."
Yukimura chuckles a ltitle at that one. "And when do your games start?"
"This week. But we got a BYE, so we actually start playing next week. But then, Saya's thinking of using our reserves for the first few games, so I actually don't know."
Yukimura quirks a brow. But then, he oughtn't be so surprised, he supposes. The tennis team probably would have sent in their reserves for a bit, too, if it hadn't been for that- fluke at Nationals. It was a fluke, he tells himself, but he won't take any chances, either.
"I kind of want to play, though," Noriko admits. "But Saya wants to keep us on some intense conditioning sessions for a little while more, which means no games, so I guess the reserves are going in."
"It ought to be fine," he murmurs and takes a quiet sip of his tea. "Sanada always says to never use more force than necessary, after all."
Noriko leans in, lowers her voice a little as if it's a secret: "To be honest- Sanada scares the shit out of me."
And that's where Yukimura starts to laugh, a little brighter than his quiet chuckles, shoulders visibly shaking, just a bit.
(*1) Okay. So. I know that particularly in European countries, there are things called 'youth academies' - basically, junior soccer clubs (outside of school teams, of course), that train young talented athletes into hopefully nurturing them into pros and a lot of elite clubs have links to renowned / certain teams. I honestly don't know much about sports, and I had to research this, and I couldn't really find much on the Japanese system. For now, this is what I'm using, but if anyone thinks / knows it's wrong / any other info, please don't hesitate to let me know!
(*2) Again. What is with the timeline in prince of tennis? I've been trying to figure out the length of the tournaments and someone told me that basically the entirety of the Nationals tournament takes only a month, because matches are basically every day. So that's the info I'm using here - so essentially, soccer and tennis start off at roughly the same time, but soccer lasts longer. Again, if anyone knows anything, please let me know, and sorry if it's wrong!
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